by Hisako Sonethavilay

After birthing my first child and being geographically isolated from career enhancing opportunities, I, like many military spouses, experienced a career hiatus. When we relocated to a more metropolitan area, I was confident I could easily re-enter the workforce. Yet, the gap in my resume and uncertainty of where to find opportunities made re-entry more difficult than I had anticipated. Just when I was about to give up hope, I found out about the Blue Star Families’ (BSF) prestigious Fellowship Program.

The fellowship was a one-year part-time opportunity, and I was assigned to the Blue Star Careers Program. It seemed fitting since I had been in the same shoes as many of the spouses I was assisting. I knew this fellowship would be my first step in rebuilding my career and accomplishing my end goal of establishing full-time employment. Being an employee again was surprisingly uncomfortable at first, likely a result of being out of the workforce for almost 2 years. The flexibility of the Fellowship Program helped me ease into my role, and BSF also offered professional development opportunities which helped build my confidence and skillset.

Networks LiveNetworks LiveThe conclusion of my fellowship came before I knew it. In less than 12 months, I had regained a sense of purpose, expanded my professional network, built new skills, and felt I had made an impact in the military spouse community. Shortly before my fellowship expired, I was asked to sit down with my supervisors to discuss a very important question — “What were my plans after my fellowship was over?” Up until I started working for BSF, career goals had taken a back burner because of my husband’s military career and becoming a mother. Figuring out “what I wanted to do professionally” was actually a really difficult vision to picture.

I was offered a temporary four-month position working as an Independent Contractor for BSF’s 2015 Annual Military Family Lifestyle Survey (AMFLS). I was thrilled to accept because my passion lies in making a difference through advocacy, policy, and research. And although that position was a temporary one, it led to a full-time job with BSF as I recently accepted a position as BSF’s Research and Policy Analyst.

Overall, the journey from fellow, to independent consultant, to now full-time employee took about a year and a half. Here are 3 valuable lessons I learned along the way:

No matter how long the journey may take, staying positive about your professional future will be the key to your success. It’s easy to give up hope, but someone will give you a chance as long as you don’t give up.

Building relationships with the “right people” can open professional doors for you that may otherwise have been closed. I owe a significant portion of my professional success to the amazing mentors I’ve met along the way, many of which paved paths for me because they believed in me. (Check out BSF’s Networks Live! events.)

Be your best advocate by knowing what you want and don’t want and speak up regarding your professional future. Your mentors and employers are not mind readers, and, as much as we want to stay humble and patient, sometimes you have to step up and speak out for your dreams to become a reality.
Seeking employment can be challenging and discouraging, especially for a military spouse. However, with a positive mindset, the right network, and the courage to advocate for yourself, military spouses can build a successful career. It took me a while and a lot of intermediate steps to get to where I am, but now I can breathe a little easier knowing I am building my future with BSF.

To learn more about all that BSF is doing to support military spouse employment, click here.

Hisako Sonethavilay is a former Blue Star Families Fellow and current Research and Policy Analyst supporting the Department of Policy, Partnerships, and Program Evaluation. As a Licensed Social Worker and 8 year Marine Corps spouse, Hisako values research and policy advocacy to address the needs of our military families. Hisako and her family are currently stationed at MCB Quantico.